Monday, September 23, 2013

VIDEO VIVISECTION: The tragic end of Joe Haskell

(Note: THE DARK SHADOWS DIARY project has put an uncomfortable distance between me and the best moments of the series. I've spent so much time in 1966 that the color episodes have come to look a little strange. For someone running a DARK SHADOWS blog, this isn't an especially good place to be ... so, I thought I'd invite some friends to join me in a look at a single episode from later in the show. - WALLACE McBRIDE)

Episode 613, Oct. 23, 1968
“The hour of dawn lingers far out at sea beyond cliffs of Collinwood, as though reluctant to bring the light of day to the land around the ancient house, sensing perhaps that an endless dark is more suited to the evil deeds that could be done this day, when two men trapped by the same unearthly force become tangled in a plot that could mean the destruction of one or the other.”
WALLACE McBRIDE: For me, this episode has always felt like a turning point of sorts. Joe Haskell certainly isn’t the first character written out of DARK SHADOWS, but his exit is among the most brutal in the show’s 1,125-episode run. In a matter of weeks, Joe went from being one of the show’s few incorruptible points of light (Maggie being the other) to a tormented, violent maniac. Has any other character on the show ever been brought this low?

There’s a lot going on in this storyline, but we get only a small glimpse of it in this episode. Under the guidance of Angelique, Barnabas Collins kicks off the episode by trying to give poisoned medication to Joe, who has fallen under the thrall of the vampire/witch. At this point in the storyline almost everyone has become a pawn in someone else’s game: Barnabas and Joe are being manipulated by Angelique, who is the unwilling servant of warlock Nicholas Blair. Adam and Eve are running games of their own, as is Harry Johnson (and probably a few others I’m forgetting.)

Surprisingly, almost none of these characters play a direct role in this episode.  There are a few oblique references to them sprinkled throughout, but the story focuses intently on the ebbing credibility of Barnabas Collins and the madness of Joe Haskell. If this was your first episode of DARK SHADOWS, you probably had no idea why these people were trying to murder each other. To actor Jonathan Frid’s credit, though, it should be obvious to any viewer that his character is a liar.

MARK THOMAS PASSMORE: My first thought viewing this episode was that Barnabas is a terrible liar. His nose practically grew with each line he spoke. Julia must be blind as a bat!

It would be easy for me to dismiss this as part of the “larger than life theatrical acting” the series was sometimes known for. Except that Jonathan Frid showed a subtler performance underneath his deepening lies - that of Barnabas’ conflict, knowing right from wrong and having no choice but to obey Angelique’s order to kill Joe Haskell. To me, this was a classic moment for viewers to see what made Barnabas Collins a different kind of vampire and the idol of thousands in the 1960s and beyond – that “special angst.”

Then again – Jonathan may have just been terrified that day. Either way, the “mojo” of “Frid/Barnabas” works in this episode.

The other thing that struck me was the difference in acting styles between the seasoned stage performers such as Jonathan, Grayson Hall and Clarice Blackman and the younger Kathryn Leigh Scott and Joel Crothers. Both sides give competent performances, but KLS and Joel’s felt natural – as if there were no camera in the room while they exposed their inner most feelings. The other three, while not overacting, did make everything clear so the audience wouldn’t have to work hard to “get” their meaning. Heck, they were called soap operas for a reason, and in that era the average viewer of soaps were housewives usually busy doing other things. Try to watch a modern soap opera this way and you’d be lost. What a contrast of performances this series had between the vets and newbies! Maybe that was part of the magic and another key to the program’s success.

Kudos to KLS in this episode, who conveys so well that she still loves Joe and always will, despite all that has happened to their relationship. 

PATRICK McCRAY: There are moments when the writers and actors had to know that a scene would be -- with just a tweak -- total farce, and the opener, when Julia catches Barnabas, is a great example.  Yes, Barnabas is a wonderfully bad liar, and we're lucky that Julia is an equally poor judge of character.  If this strikes us now, it had to strike the actors and writers, too.  I still contend that they did their work seriously, but every now and then (but not as frequently as the show's critics might suggest), they allowed themselves to so explicitly have it both ways.  It only gets compounded by Julia then trusting Barnabas completely to care for Joe through the night.  Even if he's not murderous, he certainly has depicted himself as  incompetent, tired, and confused as to the time of day.  When she tells him not to fall asleep, all I could think of was, "Those tiki torches must remain lit, Gilligan."

It's interesting to compare the two acting styles.  The episode really puts that on parade.  It would be interesting to see the actors (adjusting for age) switch parts.  How would Frid have handled playing a character with all of Joe's given circumstances?  I think we can all predict it, but it would still be an interesting experiment. 

I love this sequence of the story because it gives Crothers another chance to show off his chops.  For me, he steals 1795, and I'm glad they took his character here because after Nathan Forbes, he's a total waste as a normative character.  But I wish he'd stuck around and become reincarnated into other characters.  As an actor, he is somewhere between David Selby and Christopher Pennock.  He's got their virility, as well as the strategic playfulness of Selby and the feral energy of Pennock.

Most Dark Shadows episodes aren't really self-contained, and the same is true for most soaps.  They kinda start and kinda stop rather than dramatically begin, peak, and end, if you know what I mean.  For me, this defies that structure a bit.  Look at the palindromic nature of the storytelling... both men, wrestling with curses and inner-demons, trying to murder the other in sleep.  I really liked that symmetry.


* WALLACE McBRIDE is the editor of The Collinsport Historical Society.  

* MARK THOMAS PASSMORE is the writer behind a number of DARK SHADOWS audiodramas published by BIG FINISH. 

* PATRICK McCRAY is the mastermind behind THE COLLINS FOUNDATION.

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